4 men charged in Taylor death
Published: Saturday, December 1, 2007 at 2:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 1, 2007 at 2:38 p.m.
MIAMI - Four suspects were charged Saturday in the shooting death of Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor, with two of their lawyers confirming some have confessed.
Charles Wardlow, Eric Rivera and Venjah Hunte were denied bond during a brief court appearance via videoconference in Fort Myers. The fourth suspect, Jason Mitchell, was charged Saturday afternoon and had not made a court appearance.
All four are charged with unpremeditated murder in Taylor's death, a killing police said was unplanned and arose out of a burglary at the player's home. They're also charged with armed burglary and home invasion with a firearm or another deadly weapon.
The four were arrested Friday in southwest Florida, about 100 miles from Miami.
Miami-Dade County police Director Robert Parker said the suspects didn't expect Taylor to be home when they broke in early Monday, but the Redskins safety was recuperating from a knee injury and had returned from Washington. When Taylor surprised them, he was shot.
"They were certainly not looking to go there and kill anyone," Parker said. "They were expecting a residence that was not occupied. So murder or shooting someone was not their initial motive."
Authorities said they had more than one confession, but Parker would not elaborate.
Wilbur Smith, the attorney representing Rivera, said Saturday he expected a speedy resolution.
"Don't expect this to be a long, drawn-out thing," he told The News-Press of Fort Myers. "Because there are confessions, I believe this will be quickly resolved."
Although some media reports identified his client as the one who pulled the trigger, Smith said he had not yet spoken extensively with Rivera to determine if that's true. He said his client was remorseful.
"It's an indescribable tragedy for the Taylor family, and it's a tragedy for the families of these other young men because their lives are down the tube," Smith said.
Rivera's MySpace page appears to reflect a love of money. It is wallpapered with images of stacks of bills, and he's seen photographed lying in a bed with $100 bills strewn atop him and fanning a wad of money in front of his face. He lists "countin money" among his interests and puts his income at $60,000 to $75,000. He goes by the name "$MR.FLORIDA$".
According to the page, Rivera last logged in sometime Friday. He described his mood with an obscene word for angry.
John Evans, the attorney representing Wardlow, said it's likely all four suspects will be transported to Miami on Sunday. He said his client was reflecting on the gravity of the charges he faces.
"My client has not, I don't think, come to terms with what is being alleged," Evans told the AP on Saturday. "He's in a position, dressed in the orange jumpsuit over there in the county jail, thinking about his life and thinking about his future. You can only imagine the things going through his mind now."
A woman who identified herself as Wardlow's grandmother but declined to give her name defended the accused. "He's a sweet young man and I love him to death and that's it," she said.
The four suspects all have prior arrests, according to Lee County Sheriff's Office records.
Wardlow, 18, was arrested twice for selling marijuana and once for grand theft of a vehicle. Rivera, 17, was arrested in October for trafficking cocaine and methamphetamine, and he previously was behind bars for altering the identification number on a firearm.
Hunte, 20, was arrested previously this year on drug and trespassing charges. And Mitchell, 19, has been arrested twice, most recently in October on charges of driving with a suspended license and violation of probation.
Richard Sharpstein, Taylor's former attorney, said Saturday he had spoken with the athlete's father since the arrests. He said the family was appreciative police had worked so effectively, but the news provided little relief. Taylor's father is the police chief of Florida City, a small town on the tip of the Florida mainland.
"The arrest of Sean's killer provides no comfort or solace to Sean's family," he said. "They are grieving and haven't buried their son, boyfriend and father yet."
The 24-year-old Pro Bowl player died Tuesday, one day after being shot at his home during what officials said appeared to be an attempted burglary.
Police have been investigating a possible link to a Nov. 17 break-in at Taylor's home, during which they said someone pried open a front window, rifled through drawers and left a kitchen knife on a bed.
"We're looking into whether or not one or more of the individuals had been at the residence before," Parker said.
The Miami Herald reported Mitchell and Wardlow had connections to Taylor. Mitchell cut Taylor's lawn and did other chores at the house, Mitchell's twin brother, Scottie, told the paper. Taylor's sister, Sasha Johnson, dates Wardlow's older cousin Christopher, and Scottie Mitchell told the paper the couple invited Jason Mitchell to Johnson's birthday party within the past two months.
A woman who identified herself as Jason Mitchell's mother told the Naples Daily News her son was at a birthday party at Sean Taylor's home a couple months ago. She also said her son was at home all week and last weekend.
"I don't know where he's at, I don't know why he's being held," she told the Naples paper. "No parent should see this happen to their child."
Miami-Dade police department spokeswoman Linda O'Brien would not confirm the reports when contacted by the AP.
Taylor and his longtime girlfriend, Jackie Garcia, were awakened early Monday by loud noises at his home in an affluent Miami suburb. Taylor grabbed a machete he kept in the bedroom for protection, Sharpstein said. Someone broke through the bedroom door and fired two shots, one missing and one hitting Taylor in the upper leg. Neither the couple's 18-month-old daughter, also named Jackie, nor Garcia were injured.
The bullet damaged the femoral artery in Taylor's leg, causing significant blood loss. Taylor never regained consciousness and died a little more than 24 hours later.
"They targeted him for his wealth," Sharpstein said. "It makes his death even more pathetic, unnecessary and just actually disgusting."
A few dozen fans celebrated Taylor's life at a public memorial service Saturday at a church in Rockville, Md. They sang "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" and signed a condolence book, which will be delivered to Taylor's family.
A public viewing for Taylor is scheduled Sunday in Miami, and the entire Redskins organization plans to fly to Florida to attend Monday's funeral at Pharmed Arena at Florida International University.
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